«The Spectator» UK | Lionel Shriver «How the West plays up to Putin’s caricature»

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n an outstanding article in the New York Times, Roger Cohen recounted his experience of travelling across Russia for a full month, and hats off to the veteran journalist for risking a shared cell with the Wall Street Journal ‘spy’ Evan Gershkovich.

Cohen explains that Vladimir Putin is successfully flogging his war in Ukraine to the Russian people as a battle against the whole spiritually depraved West, no longer the home of ruthless capitalism but of ‘sex changes, the rampages of drag queens, barbaric gender debates and an LGBTQ takeover’. In a tirade last November, Putin lambasted the US and ‘other unfriendly foreign states’ for ‘selfishness, permissiveness, immorality, the denial of the ideals of patriotism’ and ‘destruction of the traditional family through the promotion of nontraditional sexual relations’.

You must admit, he’s got a point.

Of course, most folks on our side of the re-erected Iron Curtain roundly deplore Russia’s criminal prosecution of homosexuals, but we went way beyond merely legalising same-sex relations long ago – so much farther that garden-variety gays and lesbians are passé. There’s a big difference, too, between simply allowing a practice and celebrating it or even, yes, promoting it, and in the past decade the West’s cultural obsession with the sexual Crayola 64 has gone manically overboard.

We’ve kept adding so many letters to that ‘LGB’ formulation that in Scrabble you’d earn 50 bonus points with a fraction of the erstwhile shorthand. One out of five Gen Zers say they’re not straight. A full 38 per cent of students at America’s Brown University claim they’re not straight, a proportion that’s doubled in ten years. Aberration is the new conformity.

‘Pride’ has expanded from one day to a whole month, during which garish rainbows adorn everything from corporate logos to crosswalks, in a showy embrace of every sexual proclivity under the sun other than the sort that reproduces the species.

Yet it’s not obvious why one’s private preference for sticking whatever, wherever should be a source of pride. I can see feeling proud of a child, but it’s standard male-female procreation that is expressly excluded from glorification in June. Yeah, I’d call that anti-family. Worse, captured by an ideology that repudiates biology, we’re castrating our own children. It’s one thing to permit departure from norms, quite another to abandon norms, to make only abnormality normal, or to claim there’s no such thing as a norm, even the one that brought all of us into the world.

This dementedly neutral anything-goes morality is extending well beyond sex. There’s nothing wrong with obesity; we endorse ‘body positivity’. There’s nothing wrong with being a drug addict or an alcoholic, who only have ‘substance use disorder’, as if a less judgmental label helps the 100,000 Americans dying annually from fentanyl overdoses. There’s nothing wrong with being mentally ill; we extol ‘neuro-diversity’. There’s nothing wrong with shoplifting, because if there were we’d press charges for thieving and looting, which has got so out of control in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco that franchises are closing their California retail outlets. Who are our real villains? The police.

Don’t you imagine that Putin eats this stuff up? We are myopically obsessed with race. We are myopically obsessed with the words for things, so that, rather than worry about Fitch Ratings’ downgrading of US debt last week, financiers are scrupulously boycotting the expression ‘black market’. We choose politicians, judges, police commissioners, military leaders, board members and CEOs not in accordance with their qualifications for the job but because they are black or Latino or Asian or trans or female, thanks to which the person next in line for becoming president of the United States, should anything untoward happen to the incumbent, is a rank incompetent.

Americans are so consumed with ‘equity’ that our answer to plummeting educational attainment in public schools is to make sure no children can read, write or do maths, and we address these incidental shortcomings of perfectly equal students by no longer administering standardised tests: problem solved.

We don’t defend our borders – out of helplessness, or carelessness, or paralysing niceness, or cynical short-termism – so we let more or less anyone into our countries who breaks our laws, which from a step back conveys a glaring lack of self-respect. Putin is right, too, that we renounce ‘the ideals of patriotism’, as any ardour for our own homelands is not merely dismissed as naff but condemned as malign. We teach our children to be ashamed of their heritage and cleanse our curricula of our culture’s classics; do you think Putin is removing Tolstoy from the syllabus of Moscow State University?

Mesmerised by our own righteous rhetoric, we obsessively push the cult of climate change, with no regard for the fact that other countries such as Russia, China and India have no intention of making drastic economic sacrifices for an unproven theory based on unreliable computer models, no regard for whether our sacrifices will make the slightest difference to a complex, dynamic system we neither understand nor control, and no regard for whether the energy transition demanded by people with purple hair gluing themselves to the tarmac is even technologically feasible. We will make all our doohickeys electric, and our incapacity to generate the electricity to power the doohickeys is by-the-by.

Throw into this mix of what looks quite persuasively from any distance like moral decay the fact that the two leading candidates for the American presidency in 2024 seem to be in competition over which of them is the more disastrous geriatric to lead the country.

Absent this collective spectacle of self-destruction, degeneracy and spiritual vapidity staged by his foes, Vladimir, the manipulative opportunist, would come up with something else wrong with the West to make us look like boobies and Satanists to bolster his pro-war poppycock, even if he had to make stuff up. But he needn’t strain his imagination. Everything Putin needs to warn the Russian people about the horrors of western decadence is obligingly spelled out in every issue of our national newspapers.

12 August 2023

Lionel Shriver


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